Opinion

What skills will our future leaders need?

6 min read

24 March 2016

There has been a lot of press recently about millennials and the type of leadership development that will be beneficial to this generation. As such, Noggin CEO Ben Houghton ponders what we will be looking for from the next generation of employees and how we will evaluate, remunerate and reward these individuals?

I read an interesting article published by the CIPD about HiPo, or “High Potential” employees, and how it seems like every organisation has its own definition. The question is whether this is about spotting potential or rewarding performance – or indeed both. This got me thinking about the skills that we as employers are seeking. 

The article about HiPo delves into whether this term is effective and how emotional intelligence and developing employees, after being identified as “high potential”, is important in the development of future leaders. The article suggests that a one size fits all development programme won’t work for the roles of the future, and what businesses need is leaders who can embrace and manage change, alongside possessing resilience and empathy. That is why emotional intelligence is becoming an increasingly important capability for future leaders.

Our future leaders, of course, will be millennials so it is important to understand what motivates this generation. Certainly millennials appear to be seeking much more meaning and purpose to life in both work and play than previous generations. This group of workers want to explore and surface their deep internal motivations and higher purpose so that they can achieve greater fulfilment and enjoyment at work. 

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The accumulation of wealth and power is rarely found to be truly motivating for this group. Rather, finding alignment between personal, business and global motivations is much more rewarding. That said, technology underpins all aspects of their life and they expect similar technology in the workplace to what they use at home. Technology, however, can also make millennials socially isolated and less inclined to seek out face to face communications.

From my perspective, I believe that millennials need to develop real “in the moment” emotional competence – the ability to spot and respond to what is really going on for people emotionally at that moment in time. Recent studies increasingly show that social media and an over reliance on electronic communication is leading to angst amongst young people, or “Status Update Stress.” Imagine what will happen when you add in the hierarchies and more consequential relationships that they will face in the workplace?

We already know that leaders with high levels of emotional competence tend to perform better. The human desire to feel good about ourselves in others’ presence is in-built and not satisfied by electronic communication alone. If a millennial grows up over reliant on technology, a large part of their development will need to focus on broadening their interpersonal skills and their ability to impact, inspire and really connect with people.

This begs the question of how organisations should be developing millennials for leadership roles and whether they require a different approach compared to other generations.

It is a well-known fact that digital natives are considered to have short attention spans. They are used to immediate access to information and have less need to retain knowledge because they can go and find what they need online. Traditional classroom learning doesn’t light them up and much is being done via educators to change the “chalk and talk” style of teaching. There certainly needs to be a mix, using face to face for the interpersonal learning, and online for the knowledge-based learning. 

Equally, millennials are used to curating their own content and only truly learn what they find relevant to them at that moment. Learning and development needs to be immediately relevant and experiential. Developing emotional competence in leaders needs to be a visceral experience that holds a mirror up to their current range of emotional competence.

If we can get this right, then millennials have the potential to be amazing leaders. The younger generations have the ability to see the world through a fresh pair of eyes without cynicism. This generation has the ability to throw out the rule book, challenge the status quo and stimulate different thinking. Millennials are world travellers and can bring ideas from abroad to sharpen our own thinking and bring about best practice. They are very purpose driven and want to do the right thing for the world, more so than current generations. As long as they can make emotional competence a core skill alongside their abilities as digital natives, I believe they will have a huge impact in the workplace.

Monika Juneja, director of recruitment consultancy One Hit Consulting, gives her five tips on how to get the most out of the mercurial millennial generation – including pandering to their cosseted upbringing.

Ben Houghton is CEO of Noggin.